Wednesday, November 05, 2008

moving on

It's time for me to move on from thinking and writing about politics for awhile. There are many other things in the world that I love, and I plan to re-discover some of them. During the past three years, this blog was a great help to me in learning to face some of my own inner demons, ones I chose to give names such as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. But they are already fading away, and I intend to renounce them the same way I used to renounce my nightmares, letting their evil just dissipate into the air. I feel strangely sad about the end of this era. But it's the kind of sadness that's the leading edge of something new, like the knife-edge of a strong breeze blowing in from the Bay. I am not saying that I've yet found where, or to whom, I belong. But the need for a change is very real. Old nightmares really can fade away; fears that once seemed enormous and terrifying can take on the creased obscurity of an old photograph. And maybe after those first few moments of terror have passed, you also feel a little foolish. Things weren't quite as diabolically evil, nor events as tightly structured, as they seemed. There really were a lot of accidents, and plenty of bad luck, along the way. No one was in the tank for anyone. Everyone has something to regret. Even I can see that now. So that's my apology, for wasting my own time and energy with a lot of drama. There was a better way, one that would have required more patience with myself and a greater willingness to listen to others. I should not have passed such strong judgments on anyone. I'd like to think that during this past eight years, I knew as much about what was happening in my corner of the world as anyone, and that might actually be true. But it was an impoverished kind of knowledge, as selfish and secret as Gollum's hoarding of his precious ring. It took me farther away from my heart's true desire, splitting open a chasm between us that only kept getting wider and deeper. And the tighter I clung to what felt like my last defense, the worse it got. That's it somehow, I think. One of my supervisors at work keeps telling me, you know, you're actually kind of likable - why not let more people know that? And the way I've lived, only a very few people ever get to. There's something immeasurably small in that, a shrinking that says, look at me, wound into an invisible ball. How many people have ever read this blog? But becoming small also means being able to squeeze into tight places. There's a different kind of perspective that can open up from there, from the places most can't or wouldn't choose to go. Could it be true that even complete obscurity has its virtues, its blankness the empathy of a transcended self? Or as William Desmond might put it, could there be something even more obscure (and thus more transcendent) than nothingness, which is the good? What would voicelessness sound like, if it was put to the test? Maybe something stronger and more convincing than we think. But if voicelessness, if powerlessness could ever rise beyond (or go beneath) despair, it would have to be genuinely open. It would have to join in community with others, equally powerless and thus equal to itself. With the old nightmares fading away, that means the old metaphysics is disappearing too. There won't be a grandiloquent ontology anymore, a bad infinite mocking me with its falsehood. What might replace all that are relationships. The demons labeled Bushadministration and Dickcheney have wreaked the damage of ten Katrinas. But that wreckage has another name too: it's called a second chance.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Fellow Chaplains Reflect on the War

Following up on where I left off my last post, here is a wonderful piece from the AP on military chaplains reflecting on the war. In my own work as a chaplain, I've only dealt with a few patients who have been directly affected by the war. These brave Christians are serving God in the middle of it.

Five Years Ago Continued - Keeping Faith in a Dark World

I've read quite a bit in the last few days from neo-cons wondering who first opposed the war and why. The thought process seems to be that since only dirty hippies oppose wars there must be some other explanation since they were right and the (apologies to Glenn Greenwald) Very Serious People who did their usual cheerleading act from the sidelines were wrong. I suppose it is logically possible that even hippies can be right sometimes in the same way that a broken clock is right twice a day, but there seems to be a genuine, almost anthropological curiosity from the Vanguards of Corporate America about the rest of us who proved on this occasion to be uncannily right. So, gosh, how did we get it so right back in 2003? I mean, was there a big secret or was it just one of those oracular hippie trips? In response to that I'd like to make the personal observation that staying sane in a society which is losing its mind is an extraordinarily painful experience. You don't know how much of your individual sense of well-being is invested in your perception of the rationality of others until that warm blanket is suddenly, violently wrenched away from you and you are left to contemplate the possibility that everyone around you may be going completely insane. Try waking up some morning and disbelieving everything you read in the newspaper, hear on the radio, or watch on television. And then tell me how that feels. Pretty bad, huh? That was what it felt like for the millions of us in the winter of 2002-2003 who could see in the most obvious and transparent way that the Bush administration was planning a war that no amount of factual evidence or diplomatic cooperation could possibly forestall. The most mind-bogglingly basic question of the lead-up to the war - if the Bush administration knew for a fact that there were WMD in Iraq, then where the hell were they? - was, amazingly, never asked by the media. After all, there were weapons inspectors on the ground, with unprecedented access to the whole country. All the Bush administration had to do was to call up Scott Ritter and let him know where the weapons were so the inspectors could finish their job. Yet it was stunningly obvious from the obscure scraps of innuendo peddled most infamously by Colin Powell at the U.N. that not only did the proof not exist - because if it did they surely would have used it rather than what they had - but that the "urgency" being blasted from on high through a thousand media outlets all at once was not a result of a threat (to anyone) being posed by Saddam, but the high likelihood that the inspectors would finish the job and prove once and for all that there were no WMD in Iraq. The complete and total obviousness of all of this made it impossible to believe any of the lies, even if I had wanted to. Actually, my favorite commentary at the time was in the Guardian (UK,) which perfectly expressed the insanity of the moment. It read something like, "Bush's claim that the U.S. needs to invade Iraq before the end of the month makes about as much sense as saying we must join with the Riders of Rohan in their battle against the dark forces of Lord Sauron." The case for war was fiction in the most literal sense of the word, as I've stated before. I don't know if that sufficiently answers the neo-cons questions or not. My experience of the war propaganda was one of intense, malicious psychic violation, something akin to being held hostage while everything you hold dear is ruthlessly, systematically destroyed. That may seem like an exaggeration, and I'm not saying it was the healthiest response, but in my defense I took for granted at the time that the war would last for years at enormous cost to each of us, so I got started on that grieving project early. Others may have experienced things differently. I'm in a much better place now, and I try not to take things so personally. This Lent, I even started praying again.

the iraq war goes to kindergarten

Five years ago my nephew Peter was born. He's a cute kid. He's funny, independent-minded, and talkative. A couple of years ago when he was still a toddler his favorite phrase to yell in a tantrum was "No way!" which was funny to everyone except my sister who had to hear it a hundred times a day. In a few months, he'll be headed off to kindergarten. Being five puts him in some interesting company. What else turns five this year? Let's see -- itunes...the Toyota Prius...and the Iraq War. That's right, if the war were my baby instead of George Bush's, it would be time to send it off into the world to fingerpaint, snack and nap the day away with other little mass slaughters and historic blunders. In five years, not only has much water passed under the bridge, but 4,000 U.S. servicemen and women have died, in addition to uncounted scores of U.S. contractors and, for a moment's pause, up to 1.2 million Iraqis. By almost any measure, the war is the greatest humanitarian catastrophe so far of this young century. The last eight years have witnessed enough bloodshed and depravity to forever haunt a generation that, like my nephew, isn't even old enough to remember anything different. And that is really the most unbearable thing about all of this. It is hard enough to read the dates on those tombstones and feel a chill as you realize these sweet children were in middle school when the tyrant who ordered their deaths first came to occupy his present office. How much worse to contemplate the possibility that the future milestones of this war - where are you now, numbers five, six, seven thousand? - are sitting somewhere in a junior high school classroom, or hanging out at the mall, or doing a little homework while watching TV? There are so many issues facing this country right now but the war is like a locked iron door between America and its future. Until we make a commitment to stop the bloodshed we will continue feeding our children into the maw of this madness.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mass Idiocy? Not At All

David Brooks of the New York Times recently wrote that the financial crisis on Wall Street stemming from the sub-prime mortgage market meltdown is an example of "mass idiocy," justifying the intervention of the federal government in the form of a bailout. Setting aside the blinding contradiction from a fundamentalist such as Brooks that markets always work perfectly except when they don't, I respectfully disagree with his assessment. Those who profited handsomely from the subprime bubble were not idiots at all. They were capitalists. They were the economic heroes of the last seven years. Without their brave risk-management strategies and mind-boggling financial wizardry, we never would have recovered from the 2001 recession. It was their willingness to take on risk, to package it into ever new and exotic schemes, to invent for the 21st century a metaphysical language and style defying any effort by finite beings to comprehend, that we have all benefited from during this time. They were the ones that made it possible for the mighty American consumer to keep on trucking, even while wages remained stagnant and the government was hemorrhaging debt. It is understandable that a market fundamentalist such as Brooks would want to distance himself from the current fiasco by saying that what we are seeing is idiocy and not capitalism. But it's a lie, in the grand tradition of apologists for the Soviet Union who made fine distinctions between the supposed purity of socialism and its unfortunate manifestation in the form of the totalitarian state. What we are currently witnessing is none other than the most robust illustration of global capitalism at work. And this gets to my broader point. We often hear about incompetence, and now greed, wrecking what would otherwise be very fine plans, for instance, to expand wonderful economic opportunity to the rest of the world, or to liberate Iraq from itself, or whatever. I think this is mistaken. Just this week Vice-President Dick Cheney went to Iraq and declared it a success. His boss, President Bush, said the same. Why not take them at their word? Why assume the existence of incompetence when all evidence is to the contrary? Isn't it more likely that what's happening today, from Wall Street to Baghdad, was the plan all along?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Patriotic Grannies

For all of us who have opposed the war from the beginning, here's a little piece of good cheer. We've got some of the toughest Americans on our side, and they're not backing down. Check out this story to brighten your day...

Local Ferrets Endorse Obama

Local ferrets have decided to endorse Barack Obama, reports say. The turning point came recently when Obama proclaimed, "I'm skinny but I'm tough." In past presidential campaigns, ferrets have endorsed Zippy the Skunk, Harold the Happy Otter, and Abraham Lincoln.

Breaking News: Barack Obama Is Black

According to a breaking news report on CNN, Senator Barack Obama is a black man. Not only did Obama have a black father, but he attends a black church in Chicago. Also, Obama's wife is black. CNN is refusing to confirm reports that Obama's children are also black.